Chicago-based Web site guides book lovers

By Michael Danahey

If you're serious about books, one of those islands of respite is a site put together here in the real world in Chicago. It's called Bookslut, but don't let the faux porno name fool you. If you are looking for naughty pictures of authors, you'll be disappointed.

Instead you'll find a virtual salon (which is the beauty of Internet/Babylon, that you can live in the middle of nowhere, and still connect to whatever it is that floats your boat, even if it is just on a monitor). The site is the binary brainchild of Jessa Crispin, 28, who started it less than five years ago and who kiddingly refers to herself as perhaps a "literary community builder, book dictator, and/or role model for English major dropouts."

Her site's success has led to her becoming the publishing columnist for the Book Standard, the comic book columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a free-lancer for the Guardian, Chicago Reader, Washington Post, and Globe & Mail.

"I wanted to accomplish two things with Bookslut," said Crispin. "When I was reading obscure writers years before I started the site, I would finish the book, Google the author's name, and come up with nothing. It
was like I was the only one in the world who had heard of the writers I was reading. So I wanted to provide something to read when you Google an author's name. And unsurprisingly, if you Google most authors' names, Bookslut is on the first page of results."

"Second, I wanted to give people who don't read as much an idea of where to start. We're very enthusiastic about the literature we read, so if we really like something, we'll let you know. Also, if we feel something is a waste of time, we'll let you know. This year I think Kathryn Davis's The Thin Place is absolutely amazing and should be read by every human."

Beyond bricks and mortar

In addition to reviews, the online magazine's features include interviews with authors and Crispin's blog. And every so often, Bookslut goes bricks and mortar with authors giving readings, including one on July 20 at the Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St., a bar in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood.

That evening featured JC Hallman talking about his nonfiction The Devil is a Gentleman, a look at outside-the- mainstream American religions; David A. Karp discussing his collection of oral histories taken of those
suffering mood disorders, Is It Me or My Meds?;
and juggling/singing author Hillary Carlip.

"If I don't practice a lot, not only could I hurt something, but when I perform the act, let's just say it could wind up a 'floor show,'" said Carlip

Carlip also knows how to breathe fire, and the juggling routine plays a pivotal role in her recently published memoir, Queen of the Oddballs. The act made her a champion at the age of 19 on The Gong Show - which means her recollections aren't exactly the miserable Irish childhood of Frank McCourt, but the musings of a kid who grew up a little too close to Hollywood.

As such, Carlip appeared on Art Linkletter's Houseparty at the age of eight; spent a summer vacation tracking down folk rocker Carole King;taught Lucille Ball how to juggle through a third party; and, the pinnacle of making it these days, appeared on Oprah to promote her first book, Girl Power.

"I still have the mug I received from my appearance on Oprah ... and it's a constant, bitter reminder that I am probably one of two authors to have their book featured on Oprah that's not become a best-seller. But I'm in good company with Carnie Wilson," said Carlip.

Like Bookslut editor and founder Crispin (and just about everybody else with a computer) Carlip has Web presence, too. Hers includes her eponymous site, and creating and editing the personal essay site,

In her book, as on a Web page, Carlip breaks up the words with visuals: "I include a handwritten letter from Carly Simon, which she sent to me when I was 14 and she was a huge star, assuring me I was a friend, not a fan; a flyer from a demonstration I helped plan as a teen for Women Against Sexism in the Media, where we picketed the Dean Martin Show at NBC; and pics of my all-girl, all ex-con band," she said.


Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories from a Life Unaccording to Plan
by Hillary Carlip